- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

RICHMOND — The House and Senate agreed yesterday to stretch their already extended session until tomorrow while a new dispute over public-safety issues cast doubt on whether a budget package would be ready by then.

Reconvening for the first time since they missed their Saturday adjournment deadline, unsmiling lawmakers trudged back into the Capitol hoping a budget deal was imminent.

On Monday, the dozen House and Senate budget negotiators made a breakthrough on what had been the most contentious differences between them: teacher pay, expanding prekindergarten access and higher-education funding.

Yesterday, however, the House and Senate disagreed over funding for several anti-crime initiatives, particularly a Senate effort to strip from the budget $1.25 million for a program designed to catch adults who solicit children for sex over the Internet.

In the House, Democrats and Republicans were adamant that the online predator measure, known as Alicia’s Law, receive funding. The legislation is named for a Pennsylvania teen who was brought to Virginia by an online predator, raped and tortured. Its sponsor is Delegate Brian J. Moran of Alexandria, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

“It is inconceivable to me that in a $77 billion budget, we can’t find $1.25 million to protect children who are victims of predators over the Internet,” Mr. Moran said.

Senate budget conferees countered that House members had selective memories. Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax Democrat, said senators had pushed for Alicia’s Law funding but their House counterparts kept brushing it aside.

“It’s pretty obvious that it’s not important to them until now,” Mrs. Howell said.

The House also demanded that the Senate eliminate one of its priorities: either funding for drug courts in several Virginia localities or its program for rehabilitating prisoners finishing their sentences before they re-enter society.

Senate negotiators insist on both programs.

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